One of the things I enjoy most in life is to cook. I love to search for recipes and try them. I love to make meals I know by heart how to prepare. I enjoy reading cookbooks – especially ones in which the author shares stories about how the recipes in them came to be. I read cookbooks a lot like I read my casebooks in law school — a highlighter pen, an ink pen and a gaggle of Post-It flags by my side, ready to note, mark and flag the components of a future feast.
Cooking is pleasurable to me for two reasons. First, I love the process. My kitchen becomes a workshop-slash-laboratory-slash-classroom. Sometimes, “mistakes” are the most wonderful things you’ve ever tasted. I love the margin for error, the room for improvisation, and the license for creativity. I also like the comfort and boundaries of a recipe, which sometimes gives me the courage to try what I otherwise wouldn’t. Second, I love that the end result is made to be shared – to feed the bellies and senses of people who matter to me. It is a gift of my time, my love, my labor — all rolled into one.
I especially like preparing Mother’s Day Brunch. It seems such a fitting way to honor Mom. But, because I can’t possibly make Mother’s Day Brunch for all the moms I know and love, I give you the next best thing: the menu for my Mother’s Day Brunch this year and the recipes that go with it.
1st Course: Polvorones Parfait
Polvorones Parfait is a delicious mix of Mexican cinnamon-anise cookies, coffee yogurt and almond-scented whipped cream. Polvorones are very easy to make from scratch, but you can also find them in specialty food stores. A decent substitute is Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats or Anisette Toasts.
Here’s the recipe for the Polvorones:
5 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar (scant) + 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1-3/4 cup shortening
2 cups water
2 sticks cinnamon + 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. anise seed
Preheat oven to 350° F. Put the two cups of water, both cinnamon sticks and the anise seeds in a small pot to boil. In the meantime, in a food processor or stand mixer with paddle attachment, mix together the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and shortening until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs. When the water reaches a gentle boil, remove from heat and strain water into a bowl or measuring cup with a lip for pouring. Carefully pour just enough of the water into the flour mixture to moisten it until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Break the dough into smaller balls (about 1″). Place each ball onto a cookie sheet. Place the filled cookie sheet into the pre-heated oven on the middle rack and bake cookies until light brown — about 8 -10 minutes. (Keep an eye on them, because oven temps vary.)
While the cookies bake, mix together the remaining 2 tsp. of ground cinnamon and 3/4 cup of sugar in a small bowl. After removing cookies from oven, let them cool until still warm but comfortable handle. Roll each cookie in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then place the cookies on a baking rack lined with parchment or wax paper to finish cooling.
Now, here’s the recipe for assembling the parfait:
12 oz. coffee yogurt
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
fresh mint sprigs for garnish
First, prepare the almond-scented whipped cream. Pour the entire container of heaving whipping cream into a dry, metal mixing bowl and whip on medium-high speed using the whisk attachment. When the cream starts to thicken, reduce speed to low and add sugar. When sugar well-blended, increase speed to medium-high and add the extracts. Continuing whipping until cream until thick enough to stick to whisk without running off.
In parfait glasses (or tall drinking glasses), drop a spoonful of coffee yogurt. Now, break a polvorones into pieces and place on top of the yogurt. Follow this with a dollop of whipped cream. Continuing layering yogurt/cookie/whipped cream until glass is filled. The last layer should be whipped cream. Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve immediately.
YIELD: 4-8 servings (depends on height of your glasses). I serve this as the first course, so I sometimes make these in short cocktail glasses or narrow champagne flutes to adjust the serving size.
2nd Course: Pasta, Bacon & Herb Frittata / Bette’s Potatoes / Fresh-Fruit Salad
First – the frittata. I learned the basic recipe for a pasta frittata by practicing the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. You can pretty much put whatever the heck you want in a frittata – it is the kitchen sink of breakfast/brunch foods. Frittatas can be sweet or savory. This one has my favorite food in it: BACON.
1/2 pound cooked pasta (Bittman tells you to use long pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine. I actually prefer using elbow macaroni or sometimes even orzo. Your call.)
6-8 strips of bacon, cooked to crisp and cooled (I recommend using thick-cut bacon. If you can get them, I actually recommend lardons — about 8 oz and cut into small cubes.)
Salt (Notice there is no measurement here. Salt should be to taste. Unless you eat a crap-load of processed or fast food or your doctor told you otherwise, you can liberally salt your food and not give a second thought to your blood pressure. So don’t be afraid of salt, but do be careful with it. The one kitchen mistake you really can’t fix is over-salted food.)
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 4 tbsp olive oil (I almost always go with the olive oil; it just seems healthier?)
Fresh-ground black pepper (but I sometimes use white pepper – this is, again, to taste)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Please, for the love of Julia Child, do not use that crap that comes in the green Kraft bottle. Go to the section of the store where they keep actual cheese and find grated Parm there. You will thank me for this later.)
1/4 cup chopped FRESH herbs (You choose. I like basil, oregano, thyme, parsley or chives. Sometimes, I use a combo of these. Whatever you do, please use fresh stuff. It makes an enormously big difference.)
1 shallot, finely minced
Preheat oven to 400°F
If your pasta isn’t already cooked, do that now. Cook it just until it’s chewy but not all the way done. (Just before al dente.) Drain it, then put it in a big bowl or baking dish. Toss pasta with half of the butter or olive oil (whichever you’re using).
Put butter or olive oil (whichever you’re using / remaining half if you just cooked pasta or all of it is your pasta was already cooked) in a large, oven-proof, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
Beat eggs together with some salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add pasta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, your herbs, the cooked bacon and the minced shallot. Mix together gently, then pour into skillet. Turn heat down to medium-low. Let cook until mixture starts to firm — about 10-15 minutes. DO NOT STIR IT. No matter how bad you want to. Don’t do it! Once firming starts, transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top is cooked – about 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining Parm and serve.
YIELD: 4 servings
Now, the potatoes. My husband and I are particularly fond of a place called Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley. I loathe telling you this, because the wait for a table is already about 90 minutes every time we go. But, it is actually worth it. If you go on Sunday, by the time you’re done with brunch, there’s also a very good chance that the Cupkates truck will be parked down the street. Kate is the freakin’ dominatrix of cupcakes, yo. She makes Red Velvet cupcakes that will BLOW. YOUR. MIND. The chocolate cupcakes with Guinness are not to be overlooked either. The line that forms before she even gets the damn truck parked is probably the best indication of how good her cupcakes are. I freely admit that I follow her Twitter feed (@cupkates) to chase down her truck. For realsies.
But, back to Bette’s. Bette’s makes some home fried potatoes that are MARVELOUS, and I’ve more or less worked out a replica. Here you go:
16 – 20 small new potatoes (These are the little red potatoes in the bin for you produce virgins)
1 large white or yellow onion (I like Vidalia onions, because I prefer a sweeter flavor)
Olive or grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped chives
Fill a large pot about 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and add a four-finger pinch of salt. Wash and cube the potatoes, add to water, place on stove and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until just soft enough to pierce with fork. DO NOT OVER BOIL. Drain and rinse with COLD water. Turn potatoes out onto a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
While the potatoes boil, cut the onion into small strips.
Put a skillet (preferably a cast-iron one, if you have it) on the stove over medium to medium-high heat. Once the pan is heated, add oil to coat bottom. Add potatoes and onions and lightly coat with more oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are completely soft and potato skins and onions are crisp. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of chopped chives.
YIELD: 4-6 servings
Now make some fruit salad: Buy fruit. Cut it up. Put it in a bowl. Put the bowl on the table with a serving spoon. <shakes head>
3rd (Dessert) Course
Honestly, this year I am kind of torn. I love making dessert, so this is always a tough choice for me. (This is also why I will never, for the life of me, understand why dessert is the downfall of most Top Chef contestants.) I like to finish brunches with a fruit-based dessert, so while I contemplated an amazing-looking Chocolate-Ricotta Icebox Cake I saw on Delish, I’m now down to either Bananas Foster or my Grandma Rose’s Cherry Cream Pie. You can find the Bananas Foster recipe under the link, so I’m not going to repeat it here. But, the only place you can find Grandma Rose’s Cherry Cream Pie recipe is right here, baby:
If you want, you guys can vote on it for me: